Robot assistant

Will robots steal our jobs asks industry panel

The wide-spread adoption of robotics is unlikely to lead to an epidemic of mass unemployment, rather it will lead to the preservation of jobs executable only by humans, concluded a panel discussion at the Work Foundation yesterday.

A panel of five speakers from various scientific and industrial sectors made up the panel, including AI specialist Geetu Bharwaney from Ei World, Neil Lee Head of Socio-Economics at the Work Foundation, Hannah Maslen Research Fellow at Oxford Martin, Geoff Mulgan CE at Nesta and Kevin Warrick Professor of Cybernetics at University of Reading.


The consensus was that overall; the human workforce should not expect to be replaced by robotics in the near future, especially if employed in a creative or varied role with high levels of stress or complexity. This is due to in part to the slow progression of robotic development, said Kevin Warrick.


“The public are still disappointed by how little robots can do,” says Warrick, “We are currently more aware of the much more severe limits to capacity of robots – whether they are operating as a carer or a barrister in a court. They are more likely to lead to the creation of new jobs, if anything.”


Whilst the defence industry is developing autonomous weapons for use in warfare, Warrick said they will be cautiously applied due to society’s mistrust towards machines with the potential to autonomously take human life.


“The military are using drones because it seems preferable that a drone is destroyed rather than a human life. But there is a resistance to the use of drones due to their capacity to kill civilians. There are different attitudes to accepting machine-related deaths in comparison to those caused by a human pilot, and it needs a different set of ethics. People are much more accepting of human error.”


The positive aspect of robotics in workplace can be seen in the Far East, said the panel, where low-level labour jobs are being automated, allowing a new middle class to emerge employed in roles can only humans can complete.


The possibility of being in two places at once could also be realised by robotics applied in the medical sector, for example in the application of remote surgery and the exploitation of haptics. “One benefit of human enhancement is that your brain and your body do not have to be in the same place,” said Warrick. “The idea of being human is one that will change dramatically.”

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